Rapid identity check for border security pests

A new system linking field officers with international experts has enabled a dramatic speed-up in the identification of exotic insects and diseases which may pose a threat to crops and the environment in Australia.

The Remote Microscope Network (RMN) allows agricultural officers equipped with microscopes to link with experts, both national and international, over the internet.

Together they can examine the insect or specimen closely, manipulating it under the microscope while discussing its identification.  The system is coupled with a comprehensive diagnostic information database, allowing comparison with images and information about the suspect.

The RMN has won an Award for Excellence in Innovation for the Cooperative Research Centre for National Plant Biosecurity (CRCNPB).

Invasive insects and pests have the capacity to cause millions of dollars of damage to Australian crops such as wheat and cotton.  It is very important to make a quick and accurate identification of any suspects.

Until now identification in the field has been a slow and cumbersome process.  It often involved sending the sample to a capital city and waiting for the results, which could sometimes take several weeks.

The Remote Microscope Network is used in conjunction with the Plant Biosecurity Toolbox (PBT), which includes high quality images as well as information about the distribution.  Together they enable field officers to identify pests quickly and accurately, and respond to any threats.  This could save millions of dollars in eradication costs and lost market access for Australian producers.

Dr Simon McKirdy, CEO of the CRCNPB says the project pioneered the use of existing technologies to develop a new and innovative approach to diagnostics for the plant health community.

“We’ve added a new innovative tool to our system which is very cost effective and efficient, and decreased the response time when dealing with potentially harmful pests and diseases,” he said.  “Now relevant diagnostic information is available to field officers around Australia and our near neighbours.”

The Award will be presented by Professor Margaret Sheil, CEO of the Australian Research Council, at the annual conference of the CRC Association.  The Awards Dinner is on Wednesday 18 May at the Brisbane Convention and Entertainment Centre.

Further information

Dr Simon McKirdy
02 6201 2412
0421 638 229

Max Knobel
Communication Manager, CRCNPB
02 6201 2882
0402 327 087